I’m genuinely enjoying these writing challenges that I’m setting for myself. Each one is helping me to improve that little bit more, expanding my comfort zone. I’m kickstarting some ideas, and I’m trying things I haven’t done before. So, I think there’s going to be a few more of them coming.
Today’s is designed to address a particular personal challenge. I’ve always had the mentality that I need time to write. If I can’t sit down for at least an hour, then it’s not worth doing. Unfortunately, when I do get an hour, I decide I need at least an hour and a half!
This is kind of along the whole flash fiction side of things. The aim being to work toward the whole “any time writing is better than no time writing” side of things. So, for this challenge, I set myself a five minute limit. In the first instance, I wanted to give myself a chance. Rather than sit down at a desk with a stop watch and force inspiration (always a fun time), I’d wait for inspiration to strike me. Which meant being ready to write at any time (again, a mind set to work towards), and hitting that timer as soon as the moment struck.
In this case, it was standing on the platform for London Underground (Aldgate East, for anyone keeping track), as the train was pulling in. I can’t remember particularly reading any Neil Gaiman at the time, but I feel there’s an influence there. I stepped onto the train, and started writing on my phone. I was done by the time we reached the next station.
The dragon moves fast through the tunnels, carried on wings of shadow. Hurtling fearlessly round the dark bends, twisting and turning in flight, flowing effortlessly around the oncoming carriages. The lights never catch it, for the dragon is swift and wise.
On occasion, it may rest in the little alcoves of the tunnels. The rumbling and roaring of the trains do not bother the dragon. The blue sparks which fly from the wheels do not disturb the dragon.
It creeps, when the mood takes it, along the tunnel ceilings. Hidden in the darkness, and spying upon the travellers who stand upon the platform, looking from face to face, before turning and taking flight once more.
Unless, of course, one of the faces catches its eye. For dragons are as hungry as any living thing, even the dragons that live like shadows in the tunnels beneath the city. They are also, when the moods take them, patient. Patient enough to follow silently through the gloom, clinging to the metal roofs of the carriage, their claws making not a sound. Until the train shudders to a halt, with the excuse of a red light.
And the lights in the carriage flicker. Just for a moment, but a moment is all the dragon needs. The briefest darkness inside the carriage, the longest darkness outside, and one passenger who stood a little too close to the doors disappears from the crowds.
The city being London, no one notices, of course. They simply jostle for the sudden empty space.
There are things worse than dragons there, though. Where the dragons fly, twisting and turning atop the trains, there are things that scuttle, creep and crawl. Things that reach out for the unwary, with a sudden snatching.
Mind the gap.
This worked for me. The moment that inspiration hit, I ran this story off fast, and with plenty of time to spare. What’s more, I was immediately happy with how it turned off, complete in its own right. It works on its own, but could stand development into something longer in a number of genres (for some reason, the dragons and other creatures makes me think of a kid’s book, complete with a modern day night questing into the underground tunnels; or an outright horror, losing the dragons and focussing on the things that feed on passengers in the rush hour).
As I’m making the effort to actually write, I’m working on some writing challenges to shake off the dust a little. After the first challenge of sentences with 1-10 words, this is the second.
I hadn’t seen anything like this before, but it was a spin on a little Easter Egg I put into one of my earlier works. A very weak Easter Egg, but one I put in because it amused a younger me. Very simply, I wanted to start consecutive paragraphs with the words “Once Upon A Time”. There. Nothing to write home about, is it? It’s not something that anyone would particularly notice. It doesn’t stand out. It just got snuck in there with the text to amuse an audience of precisely one. Me. And a lot of the time, that’s what most writing is about. Sure, authors write for audiences, but there’s also a great piece of advice which runs along the lines of “If the book you want to read doesn’t exist, then write it”. I maintain that every book has an audience that will enjoy it, even if that audience is the author alone.
That idea always stuck in the back of my head. At some point, I wanted to try writing a novella, with the first word of every paragraph ultimately forming another short story. Bloody painful, most likely, so I didn’t do it. Or, at least, I haven’t done it yet. I may well do at some point, but that’s for another time.
This exercise plays a little with that, having taken the idea and changed it around a little.
I wanted to write a short story with each sentence starting with the next letter of the alphabet. Twenty-six sentences. No easy cop-outs (like using ‘I’, or names for difficult letters. Goodbye Xavier! Farewell Queenie!). Otherwise, have at it.
This is the result.
At the end of it all, bloodied and broken, we fell against each other, and slumped to the ground.
Behind us, someone groaned, low and pitiful, and soon the air was filled with the sounds of the dying.
Coughing gave way to retching, moaning gave way to weeping, and prayers gave way to pleas for forgiveness.
Despite everything, the two of us held onto each other.
Every breath hurt, every movement an agony.
Few had made it as far as we had, and even fewer remained conscious, knowing that they weren’t long for this world.
How we’d survived this far was nigh on miraculous.
Instead of falling at the first, as we’d been expected to do, we’d fought our way through to the end, until it was the two of us left.
Just her, and me.
Killing hadn’t been easy, not for either of us, no matter how much we’d boasted and bragged at the beginning.
Like we’d had a clue.
My first had been an older guy who’d looked like my father.
Neither of us wanted to pull the trigger, but in the end, we’d had no choice, and I’d taken that shot.
Open-mouthed, he’d stared at me, his expression a picture of bemusement, as that scarlet bloom on his chest spread.
Perhaps he was going to kill me first, perhaps not.
Quips were never really my thing, and I’d stared at him as he fell, desperate to make some witty one liner.
Shaking, I’d watched him fall to his knees, and then drop face first in the mud.
Thirty minutes later, and I’d added another dozen to my kill list, and she’d added a dozen more.
Until we were alone, the last two standing, as it were.
Victims and killers.
We knew what we’d done, why we’d done it, and what we had left to do.
Xenophobia is a terrible thing.
Yet, there we were, surrounded by the bodies of couples from around the world, dead and dying.
Zeroes and heroes, they called us, going into this, and I felt nothing like a hero.
I will freely admit to being challenged by some of the letters here. (Good morning, Q, X, and Z!) Forcing myself to choose words that weren’t immediately obvious, but didn’t smack of being shoehorned in was another challenge. The story itself changed a little as it went along, but overall, I’m pretty pleased with the result. It speaks to a bigger picture story, and again, something which could be comfortably expanded.
Trying to get back into the swing of things, I want to try the occasional writing exercise. In this instance, a spin on the old “Four word horror story”, or “Two sentence horror story” that pops up every now and then.
I wanted to try consecutive sentences, starting with a single word, then two, then three and so on up to ten, then reverse back down. With each sentence trying to work as a story in its own right, but forming part of a whole story together.
This is my first pass at it, with no edits or revisions.
Her blood fell.
Her eyes stared blindly.
But still she ran on.
She had no idea how far.
She had no idea how long, even.
Perhaps mere moments, perhaps days had passed already.
She dared not stop, not even to draw breath.
The pain in her legs had given way to numbness.
The hammering in her chest had stopped, leaving her empty.
The stitches in her flesh strained against the pressure.
Threatening to burst, and let her innards fly.
Desperate, she held her hands against them.
She tried prayer, and pleas.
Struggling to hold herself together
Eventually, the blood stopped.
Eventually, everything stopped.
I’ve been out of the habit of writing for a long time. Despite all my promises, and commitments, I just haven’t been able to get back into the swing of it. There’s been a number of reasons for this: I haven’t made the time; I’ve been distracted; I’ve had other commitments; I lost confidence; I couldn’t concentrate; and so on, and so on, and so on.
So, let’s remedy that.
I’ve taken another tip from that afore-mentioned person, and had a damn good clearout on social media. I always thought I shared too much personal stuff, particularly in this day and age, so I’ve been through and cleared out old photos, posts, etc. I’ll be posting much less of them ongoing. Less distraction.
And speaking of social media – it’s far too accessible. My attention span suffers because of it. Even on the train to work, I can try to read a book, but feel the need to check my phone every couple of minutes for the latest updates. I can try watching a TV show, and a notification will ping up, which I have to check right then and there, and because I’m checking my notifications, I may as well have a look at the other updates, and oh, there’s a link that I should probably check out, and… Balls. What was I doing? Exactly. That distraction is too easy. Not only does it disrupt my immediate activity, but it long-term damages my ability to focus on something for more than a couple of minutes. So, I’ve deleted those pesky social media apps from my phone. Farewell Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I’ll check in from time to time, but no more obsessive scrolling because I’m so worried I may have missed something (what, exactly?). Off you go, Snapchat and Tumblr. Never understood you, anyway.
That should take care of the vast majority of distraction. But then, where to next?
Lost confidence in my writing. OK. Well, part of that comes from simply not writing. Like any good skill – practice makes perfect. OK, maybe not to the point of perfection, but it’s at least like exercise. The more you do, the easier it is. The more you work that muscle, the stronger it becomes. Not writing means that trying to get started is bloody painful. And, what’s worse, is having those great ideas that you want to start with, but being afraid to start them without the ready skill to do them justice immediately.
(Lot of fear talk on the blog today.)
Well, part of that confidence change is saying “Fuck it” to that. Who’s going to see that first draft apart from me? No one. I know I want it perfect first time, but that ain’t going to happen. I know I want more description in there, fleshing out the bare bones, but that can happen later. Babies don’t appear fully grown. So, to myself, I say “Fuck that. Write. Just fucking write, mate. Write, then correct it later.”
But, I don’t have time to write. “I travel for two hours in the morning to get to work, two hours in the evening to get home. I eat, put the kids to bed, then I’m exhausted, and just want to sit down for a little bit. There’s barely three hours from the time I get home to the time I go to sleep. Sometimes I want to play on the Playstation. Or have a bath. And if I can grab a little time, twenty or thirty minutes isn’t really enough to do anything.”
First off, prioritise. What do you want to do? What’s most important to you? Prioritise, then plan. Let’s see what we can do there.
The kids are old enough to start going to sleep on their own. I’ve held off on sleep-training for one reason or another for too long. Time for them to learn to go to sleep by themselves. Nightlight, and some sleep training. That should free up some time.
Write on the train. I hate doing this, by the way. I like to have everything to hand to refer back to. I like to be able to edit as I go. And the seats are small and uncomfortable on my trains, so a laptop isn’t great. Fine. Either use the ipad to write, or a notepad. Learn to remember where I was up to, and start working from there, or take a printout or something with me. Do what I can.
TV, Playstation, bath, family, writing. Well, if I want the TV, I can spend a little time watching on the train. Otherwise, time to knock it off (there ain’t much worth watching these days anyway. Maybe cut the bill from Sky a bit!). Playstation – the days of full immersion in Fallout, Skyrim, etc, are gone for a while. Save them for a treat – maybe once a week have a good shot at something, and get it out of my system for a bit. Sod the bath. Waste of water. Family time is important, no doubt, but maybe a shuffle around. Developing the confidence to say that I’m taking some time for myself.
Maybe once or twice a week, take dinner to work and eat it on the train home. Save that time later. Whatever, the point is to start maximising the time, and stop letting it go to waste. Another tip from that little source of inspiration. Time is finite – stop wasting it.
And whether it’s twenty minutes, two hours, or a whole day, it doesn’t matter. Whatever time is there, is there. Don’t allow the opportunity to go to waste. 500 words in thirty minutes is better than no words at all. Ten minutes of quick revision and editing saves time for later.
Lastly, and most importantly: just ****ing write!
If I’m stuck, absolutely stuck, I’ve got a wealth of notes and ideas. Pick one of them. Or scribble something up to go on the blog here. Either way, write.
Spinning off on a little tangent from the usual subjects, this is a bit more of a personal one. Nonetheless, I felt it was something worth putting down in writing, especially as it encourages me to actually write again – something which I’ve been sadly slacking off on for far, far too long.
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend – we hadn’t seen each other for several years. Life had done its usual number on her, and handed some rough cards in those years, but instead of letting it beat her down, she grew strong. Stronger, in fact, than I ever would have believed in the time I knew her. Where she was quiet and timid before, she’d become someone who wasn’t afraid to put her foot down, to say no. Not in a way that was aggressive, or confrontational, but in a way borne of confidence and self-assurance. It was something I instantly envied.
After we caught up, I took some time to think this through, and digest it.
I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in the way that she once had. Maybe not quite as gracefully, but in that same self-sacrificing way. Sure, I was greedy for what I wanted, and sometimes ran roughshod over other’s feelings, but for the most part, I sacrificed how I felt for others; what I wanted to do, so that others could do what they wanted. A lot of the time, it was to make them happy, and making them happy made me happy. But, there was a sizeable portion of the time where I just did what someone else wanted because that was the way it was.
My feelings became, at least in my eyes, unimportant to others. I allowed them to walk over me. I was desperate to please, and desperate to be validated for doing so. That came out in some unpleasant behaviours. Sulking was common. Doing things for others with a bad attitude, and then blaming them for me doing what they wanted. I tried to justify some of those behaviours – telling myself it was good to live a life serving others, sacrifice was good, etc.
And I resented others for not doing the same thing for me. I tried to change their behaviours, telling them outright that it wasn’t fair. (Ah, that old chestnut. “It’s not fair!”) I was playing the victim, and genuinely believing it. Worse, I knew what I was doing a lot of the time, but couldn’t stop myself. I tried hard to change, but it never quite worked out. I could point the finger left, right, and centre, but ultimately it comes down to this.
I needed to change myself.
It’s the responsibility of each person what they want to hear, what they want to take in, what they want to do, how they want to act. I can’t force others to change for me, any more than they can force me to change for them. I was trying to do the latter, in hope of doing the former, and everything was kind of collapsing into crap, making myself and others miserable.
So, I took inspiration from that same person who had made the change in herself. I can make that change in myself, I can have that confidence, and I can temper how I express myself. Most importantly, I can look after myself, whilst looking out for others, and start making sure I have time to do what I want to do, in the way that I want to do it. Being reasonable, of course.
And what I want to do right now, is write.
OK, screw it. I may be getting a little over-ambitious, but these are the working titles I’m currently on. And I’ll get one of them out this year. For sure.
Tales from the Darkness – Vol. 2 (Short stories, with a slightly fantastical take)
Tales from the Darkness – Vol. 3 (Short stories, with a more fantastical take)
The Rise of the Tenth Throne (Fantasy, set in the aftermath of the Godslayer Wars. A new threat rises from the bodies of the fallen gods). First in the Tenth Throne Trilogy.
The Path of the Alothi (Sci-Fi, set in the far future. The planet-eating Alothi are working through the known systems, devouring everything in their wake. Whilst the Central Authorities work to evacuate planets, and desperately find sanctuary, a scavenger crew may just have found salvation in the shape of a mysterious survivor).
The Art of The Finish (The importance of the right finishing move for a main-eventer in the perception of the audience)
Blood Will Flow (Horror. When the last survivor of a slasher meets others who’ve been through the same trials, he finds a bigger threat than he could have imagined, and just maybe, a way to stop them all for good).
It’s been a year.
OVER a year.
That’s a long time since I last came here. I suppose I should be a little more active, eh? Dust off the corners. Plug things back in. Crank up the generators. See if that thing in the corner has achieved sentience yet.
OK. Well, it’s been busy. I have kids (definitely my favourite go-to excuse. A great reason to get out of anything I don’t want to do). A full-time job. Distractions. Yes, I know. I should be writing. And I am. Just not as much as I should, nor with the passion I had.
I tried to get another group compilation off the ground, only to be met with initial enthusiasm followed by general apathy.
I’ve tried to get writing myself for myself, and I’ve struggled with concentration. I have dozens of short stories which have started, but only a few of which have begun. I have a fantasy trilogy which is epic and wonderful in my head, and fairly well sketched out. I have a sci-fi trilogy, which is epic and wonderful in my head, and pretty well sketched out. I have a wrestling book, which I’m really struggling to put together, but is more of a passion project. And I have a slasher/horror movie homage book, which I’m really enjoying, but I’m struggling to get any real time for.
And that’s the hardship. Time.
I wrote Clown when I was living on my own, and I could concentrate a bit more, solidly churning out work. I wrote In The Mourning with a wife and son, when he was old enough to entertain himself.
Now? Now, I have a wife, three sons (the eldest needing a major hand with his studies, the middlest going to pre-school, the youngest just a toddler – they all need and deserve attention. And, quite frankly, they’re going to get it as a priority!), a full-time job (with another on the way, which will eat up more of my time), a reading list longer than my arm, a Playstation with a queue of games (damn you, Fallout! Damn you, Skyrim!), and a house that needs constant work.
So, it’s hard finding the time. It’s hard making the time. It’ll be a few years before the boys are old enough to let me have some dedicated time for me to do what I want to be done.
But I will.
Holy moly. Where have I been?
Just checked the last date of entry, and that’s several months ago. What happened in those days, eh?
Work. Home. Life. Headaches. In no particular order.
Work went crazy busy, but has started to quieten down a little. Not in the quantity of work, but more in the level of support available, which is a good thing. It means my stress levels have reduced, and I have less to take home with me.
We finally had the garage converted, and a driveway installed. We had to really. Some joyriding little twat smashed into my car at 4am one day and totalled it, so we needed to get the driveway done. Unfortunately, the company we used for both weren’t quite as good as expected, and ended up skipping out early, leaving the work on both about 90% done (Hi, O’Hanlon Driveways! Can’t say I’d recommend you to anyone, given that you skipped out and refused to answer/return phonecalls, texts, or emails). So that left a lot of work for me to do, especially during the one time of the year when I had some genuine time to myself.
My little ‘uns have grown up a little. The eldest is nearly ten, the middlest is nearly three, and the littlest has just turned one. Highly demanding, but highly entertaining. All are handfuls, so they keep me busy at home. A typical day involves me getting home, and trying to take them off my missus’s hands, so that she can have some relaxing time herself. Much as we love them, they’re a handful and a half!
Life continues, which is both good and surprising
I’ve been attempting to get back on with the writing, both individually and as a group. The tales behind HB Peculiar’s gathering will soon be related.
Meantime, I’m determined to get some more writing done.
And I’ll try to swing by here every now and then.
Until then, keep watching the skis.
I’m busy. Writing. Or, at least, trying to. So stop trying to distract me. No, seriously. Stop trying to distract me. Just because I’m here, it doesn’t mean I’ve got anything to say.
That may be a lie. A little lie. A little white lie. But a lie nonetheless. I do have things to say. Plenty to say. Maybe I should stay here and say it.
Because then I’d still be writing.
I’d be writing here, instead of what I should be working on, but I’d be writing nonetheless.
And given that I haven’t been writing properly for a long time, so I’m struggling to get back in the habit, and get back in the flow, to find my voice again, maybe that’s not a bad thing. I’ve tried resuming where I left off, but strangely, it seems I’m struggling with long sentences. Strange, I know. Of all the bad habits to pick up, that’s a weird one. It seems like everything I’m writing is being written in sentences of about six or seven words, possibly for impact. And when I try to change that and put some longer sentences together, it reads a little more clunkily. Is clunkily a word? Can I make it a word? There’s a subject for another day: The introduction of words through usage.
I’m writing, again.
Oh, I think it’s safe to say this has been a trying and tiring week. Work has gone ridiculously busy. The garage conversion is almost done, so there’s lots of painting needed to finish it off inside. The youngling is on Summer holidays from school. The younger younglings have been a little ill, a little manic. Some **** (insert your favourite local colloquialism here. If you don’t have one, feel free to choose one of the following: twat, wanker, shagamuffin) decided to smash into my car (thankfully parked, and in the dead of the night), basically writing it off.
And somewhere in amongst all that, I’m trying to get two-three short stories together for the next two volumes in HB Peculiar’s next couple of collections, move my own next short story collection forward, and put together a rough outline for a couple of novels that I’m figuring out.
Oh, and catching up on Game of Thrones. I figure it’s about time!
So, yes. A flying visit here, but peace and love to all!